Cowbirds or starlings?
Category: Birding at the Chico
Birds sitting on a cow.  They must be cowbirds, which in Colorado would mean Brown-headed Cowbird.  However these birds, seemingly enjoying the free ride, warmth, or perch are European Starlings.  European Starlings were introdced into North America in the late 19th century and are now a resident in most of the U.S. and Canada.  (Brown-headed Cowbirds are migratory and have left Colorado for the winter.)

Although disliked by most birders because they occupy prime nesting cavities which could otherwise be used by native species, European Starlings have an amazing number of vocalizations and are actually quite attractive in appearance.  In addition to their own calls, sometimes described as similar to a wolf-whistle, the Chico starlings have fooled many a good birder with their imitations of all the local breeding birds (and sometimes some non-breeders)  including, my favorite imitation, Sora.

About the only place were  numbers of birds are being seen on Chico today was in the olives just south of Homes Corral.  A Harris's Sparrow, uncommon in winter, was seen well with a large mixed-species flock of juncos, White-crowned and American Tree Sparrows.  The Great Horned Owls by HQ were vocal even in the morning hours.  Interesting was a group of three, possibly two males vying for a female.
Posted by Bill M. on 01/24/2008

Praire Falcon - Power Poles
Category: Birding at the Chico
Saturday, I took Chip Clouse, staff member of the American Birding Association, to Chico to look for some wintering birds.  One thing that Chip commented on right off, was that there were a lot of wintering raptors, but they were only in areas that had good perches.  As we drove to the Sand Hills, looking unsuccessfully for Lapland Longspurs, we noticed that the small 2-line power poles had no natural perches.  On those types of poles there were no raptors.  However, on the high-voltage utility poles runing across the ranch, a number of raptors were found.

One of our favorite birds was Prairie Falcon.  Subtle coloration enables it to blend in to its prairie habitats during winter months, before  these fast fliers undergo a vertical migrtion, where they can be found during the summer, nesting on steep cliff faces.  The mascot of the cadets of the Air Force Academy, Prairie Falcons are about the size of Peregrines, but the facial marking of Prairies are not as wide or distinct as those of its close releative, Peregrine Falcon.  Prairie Falcons prey mainly on birds, being able to take any bird, jay-sized or smaller.  Maybe this Prairie Falcon is the reason we missed seeing the longspurs.

Posted by Bill M. on 01/13/2008

Winter Bird Count - Brown Thrasher
Category: Birding at the Chico
During late December and very early January, thousands of birders in North American and selected sites in the rest of the Americas, conduct bird counts.  The results help scientist to evaluate the seasonal abundance and changes in wintering bird populations over time.

For at least the past 8 years, birders have conducted winter bird surveys on Chico Basin Ranch.  This year the three surveyors were Saraiya Ruano, a senior at Coronado High, Brandon Percival, a longtime resident of Pueblo West, and me.

We could see that it was snowing in Colorado Springs, so we all agreed that it was great to be looking for birds on Chico on such a beautiful, warm, windless day.  

The best bird, if there is such a thing, was a wintering Brown Thasher, an uncommon migrant, and rare wintering species on the Ranch, and a close second was the two Harris's Sparrows, feeding with a large mixed-species flock of sparrows in the olives near the RMBO Banding Station.  If the fleeting bird was what we thought it was, a Vesper Sparrow, that species would move right up to the top of the list of good birds.

A full list of the birds seen, along with approximate numbers, can be viewed below.  Thanks to the Phillips family for allowing us to conduct this annual survey in such a beautiful location, and to Brandon for recording.

1. Canada Goose - 42
2. Mallard - 10
3. Ring-necked Duck - 4
4. Common Goldeneye - 2
5. Scaled Quail - 3
6. Northern Harrier - 6
7. Red-tailed Hawk - 7
8. Ferruginous Hawk - 3
Buteo species - 1
9. Golden Eagle - 1
10. American Kestrel - 1
11. Prairie Falcon - 2
12. Virginia Rail - 2 
13. Wilson's Snipe - 1
14. Great Horned Owl - 4
15. Long-eared Owl - 24
16. Ladder-backed Woodpecker - 1
17. Downy Woodpecker - 2
18. Northern Flicker - 4
19. Loggerhead Shrike - 2
20. Northern Shrike - 1
21. Blue Jay - 7
22. Common Raven - 6
23. Horned Lark - 240
24. Mountain Chickadee - 3
25. White-breasted Nuthatch - 1
26. Marsh Wren - 1
27. American Robin - 20
28. Brown Thrasher - 1
29. Curve-billed Thrasher - 3
30. European Starling - 44
31. Canyon Towhee - 2
32. American Tree Sparrow - 80
Vesper Sparrow - 1 very likely, perhaps 2
33. Song Sparrow - 8
34. Harris's Sparrow - 2
35. White-crowned Sparrow -25
36. Dark-eyed Junco - 30
37. Lapland Longspur - 10
38. Red-winged Blackbird - 15
39. House Finch - 5
40. American Goldfinch - 2
41. House Sparrow - 20

Posted by Bill M. on 01/06/2008

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